With his team trailing Lyons Township High School by seven points with about five minutes left in the second quarter, Riverside Brookfield High School boys basketball coach Mike Reingruber went to his bench looking for a spark. 

He called upon junior Arius Alijosius, a transfer from Stagg, and sophomore Will Gonzalez. Alijosius quickly hit consecutive three pointers to spark a 16-2 run to close out the first half as host RBHS went on to defeat LTHS 69-59 on Dec. 4.

“The two threes that he hit really gave us a little momentum,” Reingruber said. “It gave us energy.”

The Bulldogs (5-1) also turned up the intensity on defense, holding the Lions scoreless for the final 3:31 of the second quarter and the first 2:09 of the third quarter. During that time the Bulldogs outscored the Lions 14-0.

J.P. Hanley, who led the Bulldogs with 21 points, put an exclamation point on the big rivalry win when he hit a step-back three-pointer at the third quarter buzzer to put the Bulldogs up 55-40 heading into the fourth quarter.

“We ran a play, but LT scouts, they already knew the play so I had to go off, take a step back and hit a big shot,” Hanley said, adding that he has hit about three step back three-pointers in his life.

The basket sent the Bulldogs student cheering section into a frenzy and Hanley had to point his finger and tell them to stay in the bleachers as they were about to rush the court to mob him.

“I’ve been told by my mom, like countless times, how you can get technicals by that so I had to make sure they didn’t come on [the floor] as much as I wanted them to,” Hanley said.

The Bulldogs expanded their lead to 20 points in the fourth quarter. The Lions finished the game with a 10-0 run to make the score more respectable.

Gonzalez added 11 points for the Bulldogs while Alijosius and Joevonn McCottry added nine points apiece.

The LTHS game is always a big one for the Bulldogs because the schools are so close and some of the players know each other. The Bulldogs enjoy competing against the bigger school close by.

“To us it’s pretty huge; it means a lot,” Hanley said. 

LTHS (3-2) started well, using a 6-0 run over the final 2:15 of the first quarter to take a 19-13 lead after the first quarter. Carter Reid, a 6-foot 4-inch junior, scored on an offensive rebound to open the second quarter to open up an eight-point lead for the Lions before Alijosius’ three-pointers sparked the Bulldogs.

Akron-bound guard Tavari Johnson scored eight points for the Lions in the first quarter but just seven points during the rest of the game. Johnson led the Lions with 15 points in the game and was hounded by either McCottry or Cory Baker throughout the game.

“We mixed up coverages on him, changed things up on ball screens and tried to do everything we could to get him out of his comfort zone,” Reingruber said.

The Lions were held to just six points in the second quarter.

“We took some quick shots,” said LTHS coach Tom Sloan. “I think we had four possessions in a row in the second quarter where we took quick three-point shots and missed, and I think that’s when it went from we had a lead to trailing. That’s on me. We need to do a better job of executing offensively and that’s something we’re going to have to work on.”

Sloan, who grew up in Riverside and went to Fenwick High School, was asked whether he thought the game meant more to RBHS, which has had a lot of success against the Lions in recent years. LTHS’ biggest rival is Hinsdale Central.

“It might be [bigger for RB], they definitely play like it’s really important,” Sloan said. “I know that it means a lot to them. I can’t really say if it’s bigger for one than the other, but I do know that every year that we play them RB plays like it’s really an important game. But they play like that all the time. They’re a really good team.”

Both teams played their conference openers on Dec. 3. RBHS defeated Immaculate Conception 78-55 while LTHS lost to Glenbard West, the top-ranked team in the Chicago metro area, 71-34.